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Indonesian Elections: Religious leaders pledge neutrality

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Friends, Here is an AP report from Jakarta about the forthcoming elections in Indonesia. Note the remarkable contrast between the imams of Iran and those in
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2004
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      Here is an AP report from Jakarta about the forthcoming elections in
      Indonesia. Note the remarkable contrast between the imams of Iran and those
      in Indonesia.

      Tarek Fatah
      Religious leaders pledge neutrality in Indonesian elections

      The Star, Malaysia

      JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Islamic and Christian leaders have vowed not to
      take sides in coming elections in Indonesia, home to the world's largest
      Muslim population, after the nation's second largest Islamic group withdrew
      its endorsement of a top lawmaker, a report said Thursday.

      Religious groups previously have supported political parties during
      elections in this secular country.

      The leaders of prominent Muslim and Christian organisations stood together
      at a public forum on Wednesday and vowed they would not be connected to any
      politician and warned their followers that political parties may try to use
      religion to win support, the Jakarta Post newspaper reported.

      The 35-million-strong Muhammadiyah Muslim group told the forum it was
      withdrawing its endorsement given earlier this month to the group's former
      leader, Amien Rais, who is a presidential candidate in the elections. Rais
      is currently speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, Indonesia's
      highest legislative body.

      Muhammadiyah Chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarif warned of political parties
      courting voters with claims of links with religious groups or promises to
      implement Islamic Shariah law.

      "Those parties do not represent religious communities. They are just using
      religious symbols to woo voters,'' he said. "They can promise to fight for
      the adoption of Shariah or wear long robes to attract voters and these all
      make me sick because they just do it for the sake of their own goals.''

      Syafii spoke alongside leaders from Nahdlatul Ulama, the nation's largest
      Muslim organisation with a claimed membership of 40 million, and the
      Indonesian Communion of Churches, the nation's largest Protestant group.

      Political observers have warned of potential clashes between supporters of
      rival parties in the run-up to parliamentary elections on April 5 and a
      presidential poll on July 5.

      About 80 percent of Indonesia's 210 million people are Muslim. The balance
      is largely made up of Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.

      Leaders of religious groups could not immediately be reached for comment.

      Also Wednesday, Indonesia's military reiterated its neutrality in the
      elections. The armed forces is one of Indonesia's most powerful and
      influential institutions with representatives in most urban and rural
      communities. For decades, it has played an active role in politics and was
      the muscle behind former dictator Suharto's 32 year reign.

      "We will keep the same distance from all political parties,'' military
      commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto was quoted as telling a parliamentary
      defence commission.

      However, analysts remain skeptical of the army's declarations of neutrality,
      saying generals will likely maneuvre behind the scenes to prop-up President
      Megawati Sukarnoputri, who helped them regain a political role and is
      running for re-election in July.
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